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Been A Long Time Coming

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When Rose was still Rosie, she'd planned her perfect wedding perched on the cracked leather stools of the cloth department at Wal-Mart. Rather than walk through the store every week with her mother, she'd run off to the patterns section in the back and climb up on the high stools. The torn leather would scratch into her knees and snag on her tights in the winter if she wasn't careful, so she'd stay as still as possible while using all her strength to flip through the heavy pattern books. She planned every dress in her wedding from her own (lacy with a high gathered waist that looked like it belonged on a princess) to the flower girl's (it was really a fairy costume, but who better to scatter flowers than a fairy?). When she returned home, she would sketch out each dress from memory, adding extra flowers and ribbons. When Rosie’s mother saw the notebooks, she would laugh and tell her she best plan on marrying money.

Rose still remembers how she responded to that, and now, looking at Carrie tapping a beat against the steering wheel, she smiles.

"Nana said you're supposed to marry your best friend, Mommy, not money."

Her mother had laughed at that, too, and told her that Nana meant boy best friends and not Olivia from school, even if she and Olivia were "best friends forever."

"What was on that sign we just passed?" Rose asked, squinting in her side mirror and reaching for the map she'd printed off earlier that week.

Carrie groaned. "Please don't tell me you need yet another rest stop. We've only been driving an hour since your last one."

"I can't control my bladder," Rose countered. "Take the exit after this one."

"You don't have to drink so much either. How many bottles of water have you been through again?" Carrie reached down for the shopping bag they were using for their trash. Rose pulled it out of her reach.

"Water keeps me awake. Besides, staying hydrated is important during the winter."

Carrie rolled her eyes. "Why am I marrying you again?"

"Because you can?" Rose grinned. Her cheeks hadn't stopped hurting since her sister had called her at work Thursday morning with the news.

"For now, at least." She was digging her fingernails into the steering wheel. Rose reached over and covered one of Carrie's hands. Carrie sighed.

"Look, after this stop, I'll drink less water. We'll get there in plenty of time."

"Your sister said the line was hideously long yesterday."

"And that she's holding us a place today." She squeezed Carrie's hand and leaned back into her own seat. "Just think, after this, we can say we're married just like everyone else."

"Yeah." Carrie smiled. "I can't wait to see the look on Richard's face."

Rose laughed. Richard, Carrie's co-worker, apparently thought that "lesbian" was just another word for "picky" and refused to take any hints that might suggest otherwise. "We'll frame a copy just for him," Rose promised. "He'll be so disappointed."

"He'll probably think I photoshopped it. This the exit?" Carrie nodded toward a sign down the road.

"Yeah. According to the map there's a gas station and some fast food joints down that way."

"We could do with some gas," Carrie said. She pulled on her signal and slipped into the far lane.

"Thanks." Rose refolded the map, her fingers sliding along the already-soft creases. The careful lines and marks she'd drawn over it seeped through the back of the paper. When she was younger, her mother would help her and her sister draw a map for every out-of-town trip they took. Her father would then steal their painstakingly careful maps and draw big green circles around the rest stops he was willing to take. He always joked about being so stern that he'd make his baby girls wait hours jiggling their tightly crossed knees, but he'd never followed through.

It was while bickering over whether or not their father should add another circle between the restaurant and his first approved stop to their trip home, that she'd finally mustered the courage to tell her parents she was gay. Everything that weekend had just gone so perfectly that she'd been unable to imagine how her confession wouldn't also betray her nervous nightmares.  Then her mother dissolved into questions and tears. Her sister and father said nothing. Her sister, no matter how annoying Rose usually found her, wasn't an idiot. Her father always shut down when he needed to think. The car radio blasted with too-early Christmas music and her mother kept crying. Rose spent the next hour holding back tears and berating herself for horrible timing. Then, interrupting her from her self-lecture, her father pulled into the rest stop they'd been bickering over at lunch. The gesture may have been small, but it made the rest of the trip home bearable.

Carrie followed the exit down into the barely-there town that Rose supposed existed solely for the highway traffic and, finding the gas station, parked at one of the pumps. As Rose slipped out of the car, Carrie caught her sleeve and handed her a couple dollars. "Buy me a Seven-Up or two while you're in there?"

"Sure."

When Rose came back outside, Carrie had moved their car to another pump. There, the mid-morning sun shone bright beneath the pump area roof, fracturing off the side of their car and Carrie's glasses and casting long, dark shadows behind them across the other pumps. Carrie leaned back against their car, one hand resting atop the gas panel, the other at her side. Her eyes were closed. Rose walked up to her quietly, slipped her knee between Carrie's and leaned against her, stealing a kiss. Carrie smiled against her mouth, pushed up, and then jumped.

"Cold."

Rose glanced down at where the soda cans in her sack were pressing against Carrie's thin skirt, and pulled back. "Sorry about that."

"No, it just surprised me." Carrie closed her hand over Rose's wrist and guided the bag behind her back. She pressed in for another kiss, her teeth nipping at Rose's lower lip, but then the gas pump clicked. "Curses," Carrie said. "Foiled again."

Rose flicked her ear. "Top the gas up, you fiend, and let's get on our way." She climbed through Carrie's door to her seat and slipped the cans into the cup holder and the granola bars into the glove compartment. Carrie tightened the gas cap, closed the panel with her hip, and paid at the pump.

"Ready?" she asked, closing her car door after her.

"Yep."

"Do you mind?" Carrie held up a CD case.

Rose shook her head. "Office book club?"

"The one and only." Sarcasm twisted up her words. The office book club was notorious within their group of friends for choosing the absolute worst books for discussing with a group of co-workers. The last book had been Vernon God Little¸ a book about a school massacre. This one, Rose glanced at the CD case, was Bush Country.

"Isn't that the ode to Bush book?" she asked.

Carrie smirked. "We're planning on roasting it afterward." Rose rolled her eyes. She had ceased trying to understand why Carrie still attended her book club ages ago. All she did was complain about it or look forward to the inevitable train wreck. From what conversations Rose had picked up from around Carrie's office when she went to meet her for lunch, most of Carrie's co-workers were the same way.

The audio-book started playing. Rose attempted to listen, but her combined lack of interest and sleep soon had her fading in and out for the next two hours of their drive.

Carrie woke Rose up in Redding. The radio played quietly. "We're still about three and a half hours out," she said. "Call your sister."

Rose yawned and reached for her cell phone. It was only ten in the morning; they'd been driving since five. She dialed her sister. Lysse picked up after the second ring.

"Rose, you almost here yet?" she asked.

"About three or four hours, according to Carrie. How's the line?"

"Long. They've only gotten through about sixty or so people since the doors opened." Rose could hear a commotion of voices beyond her sister's.

"Where are you in line?" she asked.

"There's maybe two or three hundred ahead of me still."

"That many?" Rose said, dazed.

"Some of them had tents, I think. It's like Black Friday shopping. Hurry."

"We are. See you soon, Lysse." Rose hung up the phone. "She has us a place and thinks we'll be fine if we get there as quickly as possible. Do you need me to drive for a while?"

"Please." Carrie pulled over at the next fast food place they passed. Rose ran in to use their restroom and bought a biscuit and bacon on her way out. Carrie was already in the passenger seat.

"I bought you some granola bars," Rose said. "In the glove compartment. They were the only decent veggie-friendly things at the gas station."

A smile flickered across Carrie's tired face. "Thanks."

"So do you think we should have a big ceremony?" Rose asked.

Carrie shook her head. "Is that really necessary? A small one would be nice, just us and some friends, but I've been to too many big white weddings to want one of my own. Though—" she mused "—it would be nice to shut up all those ‘always the bridesmaid' people. Why, do you want one?"

Rose shrugged. "It could be nice. My mom might like it." Carrie made a non-committal sound. "She always wanted to plan a big wedding, and since Lysse eloped—" she trailed off.

"I really would not feel comfortable using our wedding as a peace offering to your mother." Carrie bit off the end of her granola bar viciously.

Rose sighed. "It was only a thought." She turned up the radio and hummed along. Carrie finished her granola bar, then leaned her seat back and fell asleep. Rose reached one-handed for her coat in the backseat and draped it over Carrie. Then she got out her map and stretched it open across the steering wheel. She merged back onto the I-5 and followed the signs toward San Francisco.

Carrie and her mother had first met on Thanksgiving two years ago. She and her mother had, by that time, come to an understanding about Rose's sexuality. Basically, it wasn't her mother's fault and it wasn't going away. Her mother was still insensitive at times, but she tried, which was more than she'd done before.

Bringing Carrie to Thanksgiving had been her father's idea. He claimed he'd figured out that she had someone in her life due to awkwardly phrased emails, though Rose suspected Lysse's big mouth. Rose remembered baking four pumpkin pies from scratch just to make two worth taking over. Their apartment had stunk of cinnamon and pumpkin all night and through the next day. She'd bullied Carrie into finding the right kind of whipped cream (the tub kind, not the can) and had basically made their apartment hell for the entire week leading up to turkey day.

Then came Thanksgiving. Her mother had been polite and distant, her smiles never quite breaking through her cheeks. She'd treated Carrie like an acquaintance, rather than the most important person in her daughter's life. Carrie had been furious. She and her mother disappeared into the kitchen for nearly an hour with Carrie pushing Rose out of the room any time she tried to intervene. When her mother and Carrie emerged, they were perfectly nice to one another, but they did not look at each other unless absolutely necessary. The behavior had carried over into every meeting they'd had since.

Rose wished she knew how to bridge the distance between them.

As the miles marking the distance between them and San Francisco decreased, Rose's excitement grew. She tapped out a beat along with the annoying radio songs. I can let my hair down. / I can say anything crazy. /I know you'll catch me right before I hit the ground.

Rose grinned down on her still-sleeping fiancée. She rolled the word around in her head, loving the way it felt. Wife, she thought, was going to feel even better. She shook Carrie's shoulder. "We're about twenty minutes away," she said. "I've already called Lysse. She told me where to park and she's sent Dan to meet us there."

"How's the line?" Carrie asked.

"Only about fifty people ahead of her now, she said. We're fine."

"Good." Carrie sat her seat back upright and, arching against it, popped her back. "Let's go get married."

By the time they'd parked and met up with Dan, it had started drizzling. Rain beaded along Carrie's hair like diamonds.

"Sorry," Dan said, "but I left our umbrellas with Lysse."

"That's fine," Carrie said. "Thanks for holding a place for us."

"It's been fun actually. Some local businesses brought food for everyone and there's been some impromptu singing and stuff like that."

Rose's stomach grumbled. "I could use some food. We've had a late breakfast, but that's it."

Dan nodded, leading them through hilly streets toward city hall. "Lysse thought that might be the case. She made sandwiches. Tomato and mozzarella—you still eat cheese, don't you, Carrie?"

"Cheese and eggs and honey."

They saw people waiting before they saw city hall. The ornate building seemed like a cathedral to Rose. She remembered going to a PTA meeting with her mother once, back when she'd still been Rosie. She'd worked on homework while the PTA argued whether or not the new trailer classrooms were acceptable. Her mother had gotten up in front of everyone and told them that the most cutting-edge of classrooms was more worthless than a blanket beneath a tree if genuine learning did not happen there. Rose never forgot her mother's speech because she could not get over the spectacle of her mother lecturing someone that wasn't her or her sister. She berated them for getting distracted by the form of the classroom instead of focusing on who was within it. Now the memory was bittersweet, since Rose knew far too well the limitations of her mother's perception.

Lysse waved at them from near the head of the line. Rose grinned and ran forward to hug her sister.

"You made it," Lysse said, moving from Rose to Carrie.

Carrie smiled. Now that they were here, in line, and so close to the doors, she was relaxed. "We did. Thanks for holding our places."

"Please," Lysse said. "Like I'd do any less for my favorite sisters. Here—" she stepped back and opened a small red cooler, "—I made sandwiches."

Rose and Carrie ate while Lysse told them about her and Dan's adventures in line. "We had a protestor earlier, a bit before you called the first time. Poor guy was here all alone." She laughed. "Part of me wanted to invite him over for some coffee; he just looked so cold. Dan convinced me though that he might not be appreciative."

Dan rolled his eyes. "I said you were crazy."

Lysse grinned. "And then we had this little girl get lost. She got bored and started walking and then forgot where in line her mothers were waiting. I got her to wait with me while we started a game of telephone down the line trying to find someone looking for her. A little while later this tall woman with hair curlier than yours, Rosie, comes running up and grabs the little girl into a tight hug. We chatted for a little while and sent another message down the line that the little girl was fine."

"Sounds like an eventful morning," Carrie said.

"Yeah. It's been fun."

A pair of older men emerged from the city hall and everyone started clapping. The men waved like movie stars and shared a showy kiss on the steps.

"Then there's that," Dan said. "Whenever anyone spots a couple coming out, they all start clapping."

"That's so sweet," Rose said just as Lysse said, "It's sweet."

Carrie and Dan laughed.

They inched closer to the doors. "Are you going to have a ceremony here? Or do you have plans for elsewhere?"

Rose and Carrie exchanged a glance. "Up to you," Rose said, letting go of all the plans she'd made as Rosie for good.

"We don't have any rings," Carrie said.

"That won't be a problem," Lysse said. "Dad didn't know if you'd want these, but he dropped them off at my house yesterday anyway." She pulled a small box from her purse and handed it to Rose. Inside were two rings. One had a small diamond solitaire; the other was a plain band. "They're Nana's."

Rose covered her mouth, her eyes warming with tears. She handed the box to Carrie. "What do you say?" she asked.

"Will you be our witnesses?" Carrie asked.

"You don't even have to ask," Lysse said. She reached over and gave Carrie another hug.

Rose wiped at her eyes. "You can have the diamond," she said. "I'd just snag it on everything."

"Yeah, you probably would." Carrie closed the box and handed it back to Lysse. "Take care of this for us?"

Lysse nodded and slipped it back into her purse.

The line between them and the doors continued to shrink. Rose could feel Carrie trembling through the tight grip she had on her hand. Rose leaned her head against Carrie's shoulder. "We're so close now."

"Yeah. It feels—" she waved one hand in a vague circle.

"Yeah," Rose agreed. She pulled their joined hands to her lips and kissed the back of Carrie's hand. As they entered the building, they received a form to fill out as they waited. Rose borrowed a pen off her sister and looked over the license application. "Do you want to be Applicant One or Applicant Two?"

"Well," Carrie said, looking over her shoulder. "Since I get the diamond, I guess I can let you be Applicant One."

"You're too kind." Rose filled in their information. Their number was called and they walked back to a makeshift desk. Rose handed the form to a man whose badge identified him as a member of the city police.

The man noticed her attention. "We're all out in force today. Lots of people to get through, you know." He looked over the initial form. "All right, well, happy Valentine's Day, Ms. Gearheart, Ms. Martin. Are you two ready to get married?"

Carrie and Rose exchanged a smile. "Yes," Carrie said.

"We are," said Rose.

"Good," the man said. "Let's get you sorted then, shall we?"

The entire process, including waiting in a second line for a ceremony and exchanging their vows and rings (Carrie's fit perfectly; Rose wore hers on her pinky) took about two hours. When they finished, Lysse and Dan took them out for a big congratulatory dinner. Rose could not stop looking at her ring and found as many excuses as she could to call Carrie "wife." Carrie rolled her eyes or shook her head each time, but she never stopped grinning or playing with her diamond, so Rose knew she didn't really mind.

The entire day felt like a dream. Rose did not know if the protesters would succeed in getting their license revoked nor how the government in Cottage Grove would treat their marriage, but even if the worst happened, none of it would change the sheer amount of joy she felt right then. Nothing could ever take the memory of slipping her ring on Carrie's finger and binding their lives together. She leaned over and kissed her wife. Nothing.